EU backs Open Science policy, while UK considers censoring scientists

The EU has agreed all publicly funded science within the EU should be available free of charge. This momentous decision supports the Open Science concept, which promises to increase access to research data and enhance its use.

This enlightened leap by the EU is in stark contrast to the UK government’s recent moves that, with an astonishingly cynical backdrop,  could prevent publicly funded academics from ensuring their work benefits the public via evidence based policies.

The EU Competitiveness Council announced after its meeting in Brussels that all scientific papers funded fully or partly by public money will be made free to access by 2020. This occurs under the Netherlands presidency of the EU, who have been strong proponents of Open Science. Chair of the council Sander Dekker, who is also a cabinet minister in the Netherlands, said …….

Read the rest at The Canary

Food science “corrupted by commercial influences”, claims obesity charity

Official dietary advice is wrong and commercial influences may be corrupting food science, according to a controversial report released by the National Obesity Forum (NOF) and the Public Health Collaboration (PHC) on Monday.

The report suggests a higher fat/low carbohydrate diet which is also low in processed low fat foods could help you lose weight, prevent diabetes and is better for your health than the Public Health England (PHE) recommended diet……

Read the rest at The Canary

 

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.

A disease ridden global catastrophe approaches: its time to act!

 

The world is faced with an antimicrobial resistance (AMR) crisis that threatens to throw our health and medical practices back to the Dark Ages according to a report released by economist Jim O’Neill.

The report estimates that even today 700,000 people a year die of resistant infections around the world, and that this is likely to rise to 10 million lives a year by 2050, with an estimated cost to the world economy of £69 trillion a year.

The report sets out a 10 point plan to combat the problem, that needs to be implemented globally to be fully effective…

Read the rest at The Canary

Featured image via Connor Conway

Depression could be lifted by Magic Mushrooms, according to new research

Psilocybe semilanceata, aka the magic mushhrom. Images via Wikimedia Commons

Psilocybe semilanceata, aka the magic mushhrom. Images via Wikimedia Commons

“Magic mushrooms could be used to cure treatment-resistant depression according to trailblazing results obtained by a team at Imperial College London. Twelve patients in the pilot trial were administered psilocybin, the active ingredient of magic mushrooms, and eight of these had a reduction in symptoms a week after dosing, with seven of the eight being in remission from depression at this point.

These extraordinary results fly in the face of the commonly held belief that magic mushrooms and other psychedelic drugs are more likely to trigger mental illness than cure it. And it is a class A psychedelic drug after all so can it really have medical benefits?” ……. Read More at The Canary.

A robot just performed major surgery all on its own. And nailed it!

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

The robot surgeon depicted in Ridley Scott’s science fiction film Prometheus is one step closer to reality. A team from the USA has developed an autonomous robot surgeon that can perform intestinal surgery without guidance from a human doctor.

Robot assisted surgery (RAS) has become increasingly common during operations in recent years. RAS requires a human surgeon to control the robots activity. The new cutting edge robot designated ‘Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot’ (STAR) needs no human input during its surgical work, thanks to powerful intelligent algorithms, 3D cameras and a near infrared fluorescent imaging system…    Read more at The Canary

City of Athena: birthplace of democracy

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The first time I visited Athens was in 2004 during the Olympics. I  watched the latter stages of the womens marathon, which covered the route of the original marathon runner Pheidippides, and saw the British mens coxless four win gold, narrowly beating Canada in a thrilling down to the wire finish.

After Initially being thrown out of the Acropolis for climbing over a fence, I eventually got to stand at its summit peering across Athens and feeling a real thrill at being in the birthplace of democracy.

During the latest visit in 2015 I avoided being thrown out of the Acropolis and instead nearly got ejected from the National Archeological Museum by posing for a photo with the Artemesion Bronze, while adopting the menacing pose of the statue. Two of the museum guards shouted at me to stop before the photo could be taken. They explained it was seen as an act of disrespect to adopt the pose of a god while having ones picture taken with said god.

The video contains photos of: The Acropolis, The Acropolis Museum, National Archeological Museum and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Accompanied by the strains of Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in The Sky and Time. Part 1 of the Greek Odyssey can be seen here.

Housing Crisis Boogie

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Video illustrating the housing crisis in Manchester and Greater Manchester. With backing music from the ultimate bluesman John Lee Hooker.  Includes links to a petition asking Manchester City Council  to alleviate the housing crisis (previously reported on here). Please sign & share the petition.

Information and tools to change the world in 2016

Knowledge is power, so they say. The information technology revolution we are living through offers the possibility of significantly increasing our knowledge; which if used effectively/collectively can empower us to change the world. I am assuming anyone reading this will want to change the world for the better, if not I suggest you stop reading this now.

Governments across the world are firm believers in the well worn maxim7851166090_fe20caa69a_o knowledge is power, which is why they generally try to maximise the amount of information they have on you while limiting the amount of information you have on them. Our current government is an excellent example of this type of behaviour, currently they are pushing through an Investigatory Powers Bill (but don’t worry they promise only to use it against paedophiles and terrorists) while simultaneously trying to nobble the Freedom of Information Act (while insisting they are promoting transparency).

Below are a list of websites that enable you to gather relevant information and offer suggestions on how to use it. Maybe after reading this article you could use your powers to oppose the governments nefarious plans, but that is completely up to you. All I ask is that you use any new knowledge you aquire wisely.

They Work For You

They Work For youWhat does your MP do all day? Does he actually turn up to parliament and vote, or does he spend most of his time being wined, dined and schmoozed by powerful lobbyists? They Work For You is an excellent tool which provides an easy way to find out, just stick in your postcode and you can find out what your MP has been up to lately. You can also search parliament records for subjects, keywords and phrases that have appeared in debates. If you register you can get email alerts every time your MP speaks or an issue you are following is brought up in parliament.

Local Authority Public Records

If you want information at a more local scale your local authority holds a wealth of information relevant to you and your community. Manchester City Council’s website has a comprehensive ‘The Council & Democracy‘ section to promote public and press scrutiny of the local democratic process. It includes information on:

  • MCCrecords
  • Links to live and recorded webcasts of meetings.
  • Meeting Meeting minutes and agendas
  • Information on councillors in the borough
  • Statistics,census and budgets
  • Policies, strategies and future plans

These sites are generally not very well designed and the included search tool not very useful. On my more cynical days it crosses my mind that maybe this is done on purpose to make it harder to find relevant information. If you are struggling to find what you want I suggest using Google Advanced Search, which allows you to search the whole of Manchester City Councils website by inputting the council’s URL (i.e. http://www.manchester.gov.uk) into the ‘site or domain’ box.

What Do They Know

An excellent site that allows the public easy use of the Freedom of Information Act 2000Freedom_of_Information_logo . This beautiful piece of legislation was brought in by the last Labour government and in my opinion was their finest moment. It enshrines in law public access to information held by public authorities, some information the authorities have to publish, some you have to ask for.

What Do They Know provides an extremely useful tool to ask those questions to the relevant authorities. The relevant authorities (particularly central government) may writhe, wriggle, squirm and try every possible tactic to delay/not publish data that is embarrassing to them. So it is important to ask the right sort of questions, which the site offers advice on as well as providing information on successful and unsuccessful requests by others; they also describe what actions to take if the authorities will not release the requested information.

Full Fact

fullfactAn excellent independent charity (website developed by mySociety) that helps you separate the wheat from the chaff and the bullets from the bullshit when it comes to the claims made by politicians and the media. The site can also help translate the doublespeak spin which the majority of politicians try to bamboozle us with these days. Full Fact describe themselves as non-partisan which gets a big tick in my book, because as Skunk Ananasie sings “everything’s political!

38 Degrees: people, power, change

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When you have gathered and analysed your information you may have identified something that you would like to change, and are prepared to stick your neck out and campaign to change it. This is an excellent time to visit the 38 Degrees website which has an excellent Top Tips section on running a successful campaign, including short videos giving advice on:

  • Writing a petition, the site contains an excellent e petition tool
  • How to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • How to write emails promoting and supporting your campaign.
  • Running events to boost campaigns.
  • Involving the media in your campaign.

BBC Academy

BBCacademyI love the BBC, which maybe explains why the current Tory government killjoys are trying to diminish its capabilities and turn it into just another substandard, heavily biased, advertisement riddled private broadcasting company. Amongst the many magnificent offerings on its website is the BBC Academy which has an excellent journalism skills section. Two particularly useful sections with relevant information on creating online content to support campaigns are Social Media and Content Production.

UK Parliament Website

parliament-uk-logo

The UK Parliament Website provides everything you need to know about the workings of the mother of all parliaments in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. You can also submit evidence to upcoming Select Committee’s and Joint Comittee’s through this site.

Office for National Statistics

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Another treasure trove of information which the government don’t mind to much about being made public. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the largest independent producer of official statistics in the UK and is the recognised as its national statistical institute. But beware, there can be a certain amount of spin in how they analyse and present the data. If you cant find it here you need to make a freedom of information request.

So there you have it, for what its worth. I hope there has been something of use to you in this article to aid your quest for a better world in 2016. If you have any sites that would make a good addition to this list please suggest them in a comment below. I will take this opportunity to wish you every success in your activities this year and – may the force be with you!

 

Article first published in 38 Degrees Manchester, 6th January 2016

Manchester City Council: Act to Alleviate the Housing Crisis

PETITION – PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE – THANK YOU!  Help the homeless and the ever increasing number living in fear of homelessness.

We the people of Manchester ask our representatives, Manchester City Council (MCC), to take the following measures with the aim of alleviating the housing crisis in Manchester and the Greater Manchester region:

1. Reverse the 2015 funding cuts, totalling £2,013,188, to Housing Related Support and the Homelessness Prevention Grant in Manchester.

2. Allocate Fifty percent of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) £300 million housing fund, and its investment returns for the building of social rented housing, either by the council or housing associations. If this is beyond the power of MCC, then as a member of the GMCA they must lobby central government to devolve said power to the GMCA.

3. Implement rent controls to prevent exorbitant rent rises in the private rented sector. If this is beyond the power of MCC, then as a member of the GMCA they must lobby central government to devolve said power to the GMCA.

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Why is this important?

1. Homelessness

Housing Related Support (HRS) is used to prevent a crisis such as homelessness occurring. It provides advice to people on how to manage money and pay bills, and how to adhere to tenancy agreements. HRS covers permanent accommodation based services and floating support services that are utilised when needed. During a MCC executive council meeting on the 13th of February 2015 it was agreed to reduce Housing Related Support by £1,814,000 from an initial amount of £5,722,000.

During the same meeting it was decided the Homelessness Prevention Grant would be reduced by £199,188, from an initial amount of £729,188. This vital fund prevents people from becoming homeless by providing services such as debt advice, landlord mediation and help with finding a home.

The latest count of rough sleepers in Manchester City centre in 2015 was 70, which is a 63% rise on the 47 counted in 2014. The actual figures are likely to be much worse than this as the way the count is carried out (on one night of the year with in specific city centre locations) is generally regarded to under count the problem. The size of the discrepancy is indicated in a statement by Jenny Osborne  Senior Strategy Manager of Public Health Manchester. “Last year the headcount for rough sleepers was 47; we know that from the severe weather protocol we operated last year that 234 separate individuals accessed that provision during the cold weather period.”

Across England homelessness is increasing due to the incompetent housing policies and austerity agenda of the current Tory government. In 2014/15 there were 102,200 decisions taken by local authorities declaring households as being Statutory Homeless, a 10% increase from 2010/11. In the second quarter of 2015 the number of households in temporary accommodation was 66,980, a 33% increase on the second quarter of 2010. When levels of homelessness are increasing it is unacceptable to cut services aimed at preventing homelessness.

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2. Social rented housing

The devolution deal has given the Greater Manchester Combined Authority control of a £300 million housing fund to promote house building. A large proportion of the housing fund has already been loaned to private property developers to build private housing with no provision for social rented housing. There is a severe shortage of social rented housing (council or housing association properties) in England. The total number of social rented properties built in England stands at 9,590 in 2014/15, which is a 75% drop from the figure of 38,950 built in 2010/11. The loss of social rented housing has resulted in huge waiting lists where people have little hope of receiving an offer of accommodation in a reasonable time. At least 50% of the housing fund should be allocated to housing associations or local authorities to allow building of much needed social rented housing.

3. Private rented housing

Tenants in the UK not only pay the highest average monthly rents in Europe (902 Euro/month), we also pay the largest percentage of our income (39.1%) to pay the rent. Between 2008-09 and 2012-13 average weekly rents in the private rented sector increased by 7% from £153 to £163, according to the English Housing Survey. The MEN reported in October 2015 that the average rental price of private properties in Greater Manchester has increased by 22.4% over 12 months. The increase in rents is compounded by a drop in real wages of almost 10% for the typical UK worker since 2008.

Manchester City Council must take action to alleviate the suffering caused by the housing crisis in Manchester and the wider Greater Manchester Region. This petition offers MCC the opportunity to tackle the housing crisis in the three major areas of homelessness, social rented housing provision and control of private rents; we sincerely hope that upon receiving this petition MCC will seriously consider implementing all proposals suggested.

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Conrad Bower (38 Degrees Manchester & Unite the Union Grt. Man. Community Branch)
John Clegg (Branch Secretary, Unite the Union Grt. Man. Community Branch)

‘Manchester City Council: Act to Alleviate the Housing Crisis’ petition sponsored by:
Unite the Union Greater Manchester Community Branch

38 Degrees Manchester

Manchester & Salford Housing Action – next event Friends Meeting House 25/01/15

Equality Northwest

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